Gideon Haughton stirred his coffee as he swiped through his portfolio on his ipad trying to figure out who he had pissed off. When his editor, Rennie, told him that he wanted him to meet with someone from ”The Village,” he had gotten chills.
“My proverbial ship has finally come in,” he thought, “about freakin’ time.”
He stopped swiping when he came to the story about Reverend Higginboathom. Gideon had written an article last month that had questioned some of the financial decisions made by the Church of the Everlasting.
It hadn’t been a scathing piece, or anything like, more of a raised eyebrow at the shift in aggressiveness of the Church’s financial strategy, the entrance into the hedge fund market. On paper, it looked like the reverend was playing fast and loose with monies earmarked for the Head Start program there. Gideon had just wanted some clarification, but when he was stonewalled, he had to go with what he’d already gleaned from public records. His editor had loved it.
“Keep it up, Giddy, she said, you’ve paid your dues, now you just have to be patient until the right opportunity comes along. I’ll take care of you,” Rennie had promised.
She was smart, and knew her way around the paper. One of those beautiful, “What Glass Ceiling,” strong women unapologetic about her strength. Gideon felt lucky to have been assigned to her desk.
His eggs and grits arrived and he leaned back, looked up into the uninterested face of his waitress and ventured a smile. No takers.
“Thank you, may I have a refill,” he asked, nodding at his coffee cup as he spread his napkin over his lap. Without a word, the waitress produced a pot of coffee from behind her back.
“How many hands does this heifer have,” he wondered, shaking his head as he smiled to himself.
Gideon looked toward the front door to Gloria’s restaurant as an elderly gentleman entered wearing a kufi, and a plain Nehru jacket over matching linen slacks. The man had a stage presence like Paul Robeson, je ne sais quoi.
“This brother is lookin’ GQ in some olive drab green, now that’s some shit,” he thought.
Gideon had been pissed off at this assignment, until now. He had started writing for the Amsterdam News right after graduating from Columbia University four years ago, and had never gotten what he felt was such a bullshit, National Inquisitive type assignment in his short career. But looking at this man was making him rethink the whole thing.
“Moves like a cat,” he thought, “balanced, erect posture. Definitely a predator, but not predatory. Martial Artist. A lot of the Muslim brothers believe in ostensibly taking care of the body, while in reality it’s the psychology of, “Never Again,” espoused by many Israelis — That’s it! Krav Maga. Moves like one of those ‘wanna be a pacifist, but will bring the dirty street fight to you,’ looking dudes.”
Master Kai, was all Rennie had told him of his source. Despite the outward appearance of a humble practitioner of Islam straight out of the mosque on 116th & Lenox, this brother had an aura that suggested a command of knowledge, esoteric and worldly.
Gideon stood rather abruptly and jogged the table causing his coffee to spill. He dabbed at it with his napkin as he waved at the man like a little school girl who saw their mommy. The man had not looked up, but headed directly for Gideon’s table.
Gideon extended one hand to Master Kai as he waved the waitress over with the other. Kai smiled politely as he shook Gideon’s hand. There was strength in his grip that made Gideon self conscious about his own pudgy, doughy hand. Kai looked him in the eye — “Hmmm, one eye,” he noticed. But still, both were good signs as far as Gideon was concerned.
“It’s nice to make your acquaintance, Master Kai,” he said as he took his seat. Kai waved the waitress off when she eyed him inquiringly, holding out a menu to him. Her gaze lingered a bit longer after his refusal to order. Gideon cleared his throat, and the woman blinked and looked at him, her face sobering.
“Whatcha need now, Sugar? — Oh, spill. I got you,” she said, dabbing unnecessarily on the tablecloth while eying Master Kai a moment longer. “Comin’ right up,” she said, walking away after trying to get Kai’s attention again with a seductive wink.
“So, how can I help you, Master —”
“Please, just call me Kai,” he said in a low baritone voice, looking at him with a piercing steel gray eye. “What has Rennie told you,” he asked the reporter.
“Not much, other than your name and that you’re associated with The Village. To be honest, I thought she meant, The Village Voice. I thought I was moving up out this sinking ship of a newspaper.”
Kai folded his hands on the table and chuckled. He tilted his head,looking Gideon over. The scrutiny was a bit uncomfortable as Kai said not a word for a few minutes.
“You want to let me in on the joke,” he asked a bit peevishly.
“My apologies, Mr. Haughton, that was impolite of me. It’s just that you remind me of someone, that’s all.”
Just as his refill arrived, and his waitress poured while looking at Kai the entire time, Gideon’s phone vibrated. “Please excuse me,” he said as he looked at the text message. He thumbed the screen off, and looked up solemnly at Kai.
“So, what’s the deal, Kai? I mean, why all the cloak and dagger shit? Rennie just sent me a “Don’t F this up” text. She’s never done that before. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on here?”
Kai’s unwavering gaze made Gideon squirm, and it had nothing to do with the one eye missing. For some reason that didn’t bother him at all. He wondered why the man didn’t wear a prosthesis or at least a patch, but that was about it.
“Are you a rat, Mr. Haughton?”
“What is that supposed to mean,” he replied heatedly sitting up straighter in the ladder-back chair. “No, I ain’t no God damned rat!” His voice had risen and drawn the attention of the other diners. He saw his waitress looking at him disapprovingly. “I’m sorry. That’s sort of a hot button for me. A man’s only as good as his word, especially a journalist.”
“A person is only as good as their word, Gideon. But I asked you that question, not so much about your confidentiality or veracity, but because you referred to a noble and venerable newspaper as a sinking ship. It’s rats who look to abandon sinking ships, as the cliche goes. Captains go down with them. So, I need to know, which are you?”
“Go on,” was all Gideon said.
Kai straightened up and waved for the check. Without looking at it, he gave the waitress a twenty, and casually left a ten under the fishnet covered globe candle on the red checkered tablecloth. “Walk with me,” he said over his shoulder as he headed for the door.
As they rounded the corner of 127th street, Gideon caught up with Kai. “Where we going,” he said a little out of breath. Kai stopped in front of the first brownstone on the block, and climbed the stairs. He stopped on the stoop and turned to look down at Gideon, who had not followed him. “Coming?”
“I thought you said walk,” he said a bit acerbically.
“Humor me,” Kai said simply as he turned and put his key in the door’s lock. Gideon jogged up the steps and entered the building as Kai held the door for him. Inside, the foyer was plain and the light low. Kai stepped past him and slid the doors to the parlor open and again bowed Gideon to enter.
“That’s a nice Persian rug you got there,” he said, noting the low table flanked by two sumptuous pillows. In the far corner of the room sat two large Shishi Dog statues that looked to be made of the finest porcelain Gideon had ever seen that wasn’t behind glass in a museum. There was incense burning, an aroma with which he was unfamiliar.
“Please be seated,” the man said to his visitor as he drew the two sliding doors shut. As he sat down, Gideon glanced again at the two Lion Dogs and was startled to find both panting as they watched him.
“Don’t be alarmed, Mr. Haughton, the dogs are here for our protection.”
Gideon looked out the bay window, and was again startled. Snow was falling on 127th street where it had just been seventy degrees only a moment ago. His eyes wide, he turned to look at Kai who was unperturbed. He looked at the incense and wondered if the smoke had psychotropic properties.
Gideon closed his eyes, and shook his head lightly pinching the bridge of his nose. When he opened them and looked out he saw darkness, and what looked like the Milky Way swirling around.
“What you see is a phenomenon known as a Time Bubble, Mr. Haughton. It is one of the ways we prevent our adversaries from scrying our whereabouts, or whenabouts, as it were.”
“What? — What?”
“Allow me to explain, Mr. Haughton.”
For what seemed like hours, Kai exposited his views on Macroeconomics and oppression, as well as the Village’s finances. They had vast holdings, and the most diversified portfolio he had ever heard of. Most of it was over his head, but when Kai told him they were one of the few private entities to profit during the financial collapse, Gideon believed him.
“Which brings me to the reason you’re here,” he segued.
“That expose’ you wrote on the good Reverend Higginbotham caught the attention of the IRS. The Church Everlasting had its status as a tax free organization called into question.”
Gideon couldn’t remember the man having moved a muscle the entire time he had explained the Village’s goal of Sovereignty.
“Well, what do you expect when he’s preaching Marcus Garvey’s separatist shit, and playing a shell game with company funds?”
Gideon stood and walked to the window to watch the panoramic shifts as they happened, and got dizzy. Kai was at his side and had him by the elbow, helping the young reporter back to his floor cushion.
“What I expect, Mr. Haughton — Pardon me, what I am asking is your help. We have an operative who has been taken into custody, and is being held in an undisclosed location. Your Press credentials, and your story may provide you access no one in our organization could possibly get. I need help locating my friend.”
For the first time, Gideon felt sorry for this enigmatic man. “If Homeland has him, I’m not going to get any more information than you would, I’m afraid. Hell, if I worked for the Times, or the Washington Post they wouldn’t tell me shit.”
“No, but it is in the nature of how they stonewall you, and the subsequent surveillance you will be put under that will give me what I need to get Rai out of their hands,” he said with a mischievous smile on his face.
M. Zane McClellan
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